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Movie Answer Man (06/16/1996)

Q. I am 13 and disappointed in your continual bashing of teenage moviegoers. I'm getting tired of hearing our generation has bad taste. Personally, I thought the best movies of last year were "Dead Man Walking," "Get Shorty," "Heat" and my favorite family film, "Babe." By far the best movie this year is "Fargo." If someone were to make a list of my movie rentals without knowing me, they might describe me as a middle-aged man with a passion for the movies of his youth. (Jason M. Buck, St. Charles, Ill.)

A. If more 13-year-olds had your good taste in movies, there wouldn't be a problem. But I don't really mind teenagers who choose movies like "Black Sheep," "Ace Ventura When Nature Calls" and the endless slasher sequels. When I was 13 I liked trash, too. The problem is with the way Hollywood reads box office figures. All the emphasis is on "winning" the opening weekend. Since teenagers have free time, they're able to race to movies on opening night. Adults need to plan ahead. As a result, movies oriented toward teen audiences open strongly, and more mature films get blasted out of the theaters before they have time to develop their audiences. It's a vicious circle. The media are partly to blame, for publicizing the "box office top 10" every Monday morning, even though they know the numbers are supplied by the studios themselves and are subject to manipulation.

Q. I had a great time at "The Rock," and thought that the director, Michael Bay, winked at film lovers more than once, especially in the car chase that threw in every cliche in the chase book, including heroes who jump into cool vehicles that just happen to be waiting for them, the San Francisco hill ramping, the parking meters getting wiped out, guys in wheelchairs, a little old lady crossing the street with a shopping cart, the hero taking shortcut through a building, a truck carrying water tanks crossing street just in time to get slammed into, etc. I was waiting for a fruit cart to get hit or two guys to be carrying a plate-glass window across the street but I guess that would've been too much. (David Hunt, Springdale, Ark.)

A. But there was a Fruit Cart Scene, complete with fruit flying through the air. Of all the entries in Ebert's Little Movie Glossary, that's the one that has achieved the most notoriety, so how could Bay leave it out? I agree that the chase scene, in addition to working on its own level, also functioned as a sly anthology of obligatory shots from every other chase scene.

Q. I don't think I have what it takes to be a great screenwriter. I might make a pretty good hack, though, and I was wondering if you have any advice for me. I'm serious. How many pictures come out of Hollywood in a given year? Two hundred? Then doesn't the size of the industry suggest there are lots of people getting paid to write scripts that never get made? That sounds like the perfect job for me. If there really are people who do that, how do they get started? Someone got paid to write "Jury Duty." Someone gets paid to write those direct-to-video movies that pop up on Showtime at 3 a.m. I don't even want to go that far; I'd rather write bad scripts that don't get made than bad ones that do--it would be less embarrassing. All I really want is to go into a meeting with a half-assed idea and come out with a check for a few thousand dollars, enough to keep me in a studio apartment and Ramen noodles until I can sell another one. (Alex Strasheim, via Internet)

A. It's just as hard to write a screenplay that doesn't get made as one that does. And no one writes one without hoping to see it on the screen. That's true even of legendary sci-fi writer Harlan Ellison, who at one point had sold 28 screenplays and seen only one of them ("The Oscar," 1966) made. But you're onto something. Last year Hollywood made around 350 movies, and the Writers' Guild registered about 30,000 screenplays. Many of them were written on spec, but lots were paid for. There are people who get rich in "turnaround," shopping projects from one studio to another, getting paid every time. The key is, never admit that's what you're doing.

Q. I just read your review of "Dragonheart," which you have convinced me I would enjoy watching. I just wanted to add one point. You said that, oddly, the dragon in the movie spoke English. Probably only a geek like me would know this, but in many of the traditions which include dragons, the dragons are intelligent and very eloquent. The dragon in J. R. R. Tolkien's Hobbit is a prime example. So, although "Dragonheart" sounds silly, the silliness of having Draco speak is in the tradition of dragon/knight stories. (Veronica Villanueva, Washington, D.C.)

A. I was also amused that both the dragon and the knight shared the same values and world-view, and seemed to have more in common than any of the humans in the film. Strange, since I doubt they attended the same schools.

Q. In your review of "Dragonheart," you placed the time of the movie somewhere between the time of King Arthur and the "invention of indoor plumbing." Archeology has confirmed that the historical Arthur reigned in the Fifth Century. Since the Romans invented indoor plumbing long before this, I suppose that you're placing the action as contemporaneous with the Council of Nicea or thereabouts? (Steve Kallis, Jr.. Tampa, Fla.)

A. My mistake. I should have placed it between the time of King Arthur and Albert Giblin's invention of the flushable toilet in 1819.

Roger Ebert

Roger Ebert was the film critic of the Chicago Sun-Times from 1967 until his death in 2013. In 1975, he won the Pulitzer Prize for distinguished criticism.

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